A state district judge on Tuesday ordered Houston’s city secretary to finish reviewing firefighters’ petition asking for pay parity with police, giving her until April 27 to validate the eight-month-old signatures.
Firefighters submitted a petition last July asking for a ballot referendum that would grant firefighters the same pay as police officers of equal rank, but City Secretary Anna Russell did not validate it in time for the November election.
Leaders of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association sued in December asking the court to give Russell 30 days to review the petition signatures, and last week appeared before state District Judge Dan Hinde.
Hinde did not immediately issue a ruling, but sided with firefighters on Tuesday.
“The city secretary’s continuing failure to count signatures and verify the sufficiency of the pay parity petition constitutes a continuing failure to fulfill her ministerial duty,” Hinde wrote. “The city secretary has been and remains in default of her ministerial duty.”
See here for the background. I mean, look, the petitions were delivered to City Hall last July, which is to say eight months ago. Given that there were other petitions ahead of it, I could believe that Secretary Russell might not have been able to get them checked out in time for last November, but this is ridiculous. It didn’t take nearly this long to verify the anti-HERO petitions, for example, and as I recall her staff worked overtime to do that. I think this is a lousy proposition and I plan to vote against it, but at some point the job just needs to get done.
Now if the deadline to count the valid signatures is April 27, that means this will be ticketed for November, assuming enough of the sigs do check out. (Boy, wouldn’t that be a farcical conclusion to this saga if the verdict is “sorry, you fell short”.) From a participatory democracy perspective, having this voted on in a large November turnout context is better than a single-digit May electorate. Of course, since we know someone is going to sue to have the election overturned no matter what the outcome is – there’s literally no chance that the referendum can be written in a way that is both fully explanatory and not confusing; the ballot language lawsuit can be drafted now and ready to go as soon as the vote totals are in and a suitable plaintiff can be located – I feel like we could save ourselves the trouble by just flipping a coin to determine who “wins” and then going straight to the litigation. Eventually, the Supreme Court will tell us what their preferred result is, and we can take it from there.
UPDATE: The KUHF story, which includes a copy of Judge Hinde’s ruling, confirms that the next opportunity for this to be on a ballot at this point is November.